Decoding the Cost of Custom Software Development: 2024 Guide

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Decoding the Cost of Custom Software Development: 2024 Guide
SaaS Development

Decoding the Cost of Custom Software Development: 2024 Guide

Nicolas Jacobeus
December 11, 2023

Understanding the Cost of Custom Software Development in 2024

One of the most significant challenges that businesses face today is the fear of placing your product’s vision, and a substantial investment, in the wrong hands. Finding a partner that aligns with your goals and budget, understands your industry, and can deliver on promises is crucial. At Belighted, we prioritize transparency and collaboration when it comes to where your money is being invested throughout the process. This article aims to shed light on the cost of custom software development in 2024, offering insights to help businesses make informed decisions.

Table Of Contents

  1. Cost of Custom Software: A Quick Response
  2. Key Factors that Influence the Price of Custom Software
  3. Software Development Cost Breakdown
  4. What to avoid when looking at software development costs
  5. Cost by Type (With Examples)
  6. Cost by Size (With Examples)
  7. Are you getting the right price?
  8. Costs Involved in Custom Software Development
  9. The Belighted Cost Estimate
  10. Conclusion

Cost of Custom Software: A Quick Response

You may be asking yourself the very common question, is custom software expensive? The answer will ultimately vary based on the project's complexity, duration, and specific requirements. 

On average, for the types of projects that companies like Belighted handle, the initial version typically falls between the 30K to 80K range, with an average of around 50K. For Belighted in particular, this isn't a one-size-fits-all figure but a goal we set, tailored to our methodology and the projects we undertake. 

Being upfront about your budget from the outset also allows us to maximize your project's scope and take financial limitations into account, to ensure that we plan the most effective project route for return on investment (ROI) while preventing additional costs or deviations that might need to occur.

Key Factors That Influence the Price of Custom Software

Understanding the cost of custom software development services requires a deep dive into the various factors that play a role in determining the final price. Here's a breakdown of the most influential elements:


Budgeting for custom software is more than just accounting for the initial development cost - it's about understanding the total financial commitment over the software's lifecycle. Much like a new car that may cost more upfront but has fewer long-term costs, custom software often delivers better long-term value than off-the-shelf solutions. The tailored nature of custom software means it's designed to fit precise business needs, which can result in a higher return on investment over time.

Custom software might have a higher upfront cost, but its tailored nature is far more worthwhile as it offers better ROI over time. Maintenance is another significant factor, typically accounting for 15-25% of the initial costs annually. For instance, with a 5-year TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) mindset and a 100K budget, you might allocate 50K for initial costs and 10K annually for maintenance.

Size and Scale

The size you envision for your project will impact your budget and be a more significant investment if you require a large-scale product. Projects with ambitions to scale rapidly will invariably require more time, more skilled developers to work on the project, and more resources to be allocated to the project, ultimately leading to higher costs.

It is often recommended that startups adopt the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) model to introduce their offerings, creating lean products with a well-thought-out yet limited set of features to gather initial consumer feedback. Conversely, enterprises are able to leverage larger development teams to create software that can handle their intricate processes and integrate with existing complex systems as they already have the budget to. Businesses that fall between these two extremes might seek to develop moderately sized software solutions, like a corporate website, an online store, a web application, or a single-page application, catering to their specific needs without an extensive allocation of budget.

Design and Innovation

Innovative designs and unique user experiences can set your software apart but can also add to the development costs. Advanced UI/UX design, captivating animations, and groundbreaking features not only require specialized skills but also a greater investment of time to execute properly. These design efforts, while still being vital to the product experience, may necessitate a more comprehensive approach to development, including exploratory phases, extensive user testing, and continuous iterations, all of which can contribute to the project's complexity, duration, and budget. 


The more complex the software, the higher the cost. Advanced features, multi-layer functionalities, and intricate backend processes will require more hours of development and testing. It will also require developers with a higher skill set to navigate and construct such complicated design architecture. The software might also require third-party services which, in conjunction with the other variables, inevitably drives up cost.

Platform Choice

Choosing the right platform is crucial and can influence the technicality of the project as a whole. We usually advise you to start with one platform to minimize initial costs and market risk. For projects that are more mobile-specific, such as Field Service Management Apps or specific communication tools, choosing between iOS, Android, or a cross-platform solution like ReactNative or Flutter is advisable. If the app gains traction, expansion to other platforms can be an option. 

Other examples like Google Workspace or Salesforce are platforms in themselves as they run solely in the Google Workspace ecosystem for Gmail plugins or Salesforce AppExchange. This focused approach allows for a measured expansion that considers the unique advantages of each platform.


If your software needs to integrate with other systems, APIs, or databases, this will add to the development time and cost. Seamless integration requires careful planning and execution to ensure data flows correctly and securely.


Migrating data from an old system to a new custom software can be a complex task, especially if the data structures are different. This process requires meticulous planning to ensure data integrity, adding to the overall cost.

While the cost of custom software development can vary widely based on numerous factors, understanding these elements can help in budgeting and setting the right expectations. It's always beneficial to approach the process with a clear vision and open communication with your development partner.

Software Development Cost Breakdown

Understanding the intricacies of software development pricing can be daunting, especially for those new to the tech world. Let's demystify the process and shed light on where your investment goes:

Time is Money

The cost of custom software development is tied to, amongst other factors, the number of man-days invested in a project. This isn't just about coding; it's about planning, designing, testing, and refining based on feedback. Client interactions are invaluable in every phase of the project, as they offer insights that might not have been evident at the project's outset. As the software takes shape, clients often refine their vision, leading to adjustments in the development process.

Agile Scope, Adaptable Budget

To safeguard both the client and the developer from unforeseen financial burdens, many firms, like Belighted, understand that a fixed scope can be limiting. That's why, even though we start with a fixed budget, our approach is grounded in the principles of agile methodologies. This allows us to collaboratively adapt the scope with our clients, ensuring flexibility and responsiveness to feedback along the project roadmap. By avoiding the need for contract adjustments or formal change requests, we maintain the momentum of the development process while keeping the financial framework intact.

User-Centric Approach

Every successful software solution starts with understanding the user. At Belighted, we prioritize:

  • Core Features: What are the essential functionalities the software must have?
  • Problem-Solving: What challenges does the software address, and for whom?
  • User Journey and Personas: Mapping out the typical user's interaction with the software.
  • Mockups and MVPs: Visual representations of the software's interface and design.

From these foundational elements, we craft "epics" and "user stories". These are detailed descriptions of features, always keeping the end goals in sight. This agile methodology allows us to provide a high-level estimate, drawing from our experience with similar projects and gauging the depth of detail required.

Prioritizing Value-Driven Functionalities

At Belighted, our approach is centered around prioritizing functionalities that deliver the most value right from the start, rather than perfecting specific features. This prioritization is guided by methodologies like the MoSCoW method, commonly used in agile development. This method categorizes tasks into 'Must haves', 'Should haves', 'Could haves', and 'Won't haves', allowing us to focus initially on the most critical functionalities that provide immediate value, as highlighted in our MVP Development Services. This approach doesn’t mean compromising on quality; our commitment to delivering a high-quality product remains steadfast. We allocate resources effectively to ensure that the most important aspects of the project are addressed first, refining and adding features based on real-world feedback and usage.

Ultimately, estimating the cost of custom software development at Belighted involves a blend of seasoned experience, agile methodologies, and a deep understanding of the client's needs. It's a collaborative process that ensures your investment is focused on producing tangible, valuable results.

What to Avoid When Considering Software Development Costs

Navigating the realm of software development costs can be tricky. Here are some pitfalls to steer clear of:

  • Over-Detailed Requirements: A requirements document that is too detailed essentially becomes pseudo-code. The role of the software development team, as co-builders, is to refine and realize your business idea with you. Providing us with an idea of how you want your software to solve a customer’s problem is more useful to us than having a solution in mind, as it allows us to iron out functional details and specifics along the way.  
  • Premature Quotes: Avoid accepting quotes given before a project is adequately scoped. In software development, detailed project descriptions early on may seem thorough, but they're often subject to change. Defining the scope in broader terms also mitigates initial uncertainty as information is gathered and more established project decisions are made later. 
  • Hidden Costs: Be wary of costs that aren't immediately apparent. Yearly maintenance is estimated to be around 20% of the initial development costs. This, along with hosting fees and potential post-launch changes, are aspects frequently underestimated by those new to the industry.
  • Lowball Offers: If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Quality software development requires a fair yet worthwhile investment.

Cost by Type (With Examples)

MVP (Minimum Viable Product)

An MVP is the simplified version of your product that aims to confirm your business idea. Costs can be lower because the focus is on getting the essential features right to start off with. For example, a simple MVP for a booking app might range from $20,000 to $40,000, allowing for basic functionality to test the market.

SaaS (Software as a Service)

SaaS applications can range from simple web-based tools to complex platforms. The cost of a basic SaaS application with standard features will differ from more feature-rich applications such as advanced project management or marketing automation tools. Additional costs such as hosting or system integration need to be considered and, while fairly minor, reflect the expertise and scalability required.

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) 

The cost of CRM software development varies based on the complexity of customer interaction processes and the degree of customization required. For a simple CRM system that manages basic customer information and interactions, costs might start as low as $40,000. However, a comprehensive CRM solution with advanced analytics, custom reports, integration with sales and marketing systems, and other specialized features can cost much more, especially if the solution is tailored for large-scale enterprises with extensive customer bases.


The cost of mobile app development varies based on platform (iOS, Microsoft, Android, Linux, cross-platform, etc.) and complexity. A straightforward content delivery app might cost around $10,000, whereas a comprehensive e-commerce app with high-end features could easily exceed $100,000.

Cost by Size (With Examples)

Startup / Small Business

For startups or small businesses, software solutions need to be cost-efficient yet scalable. For example, a small business might spend $20,000 on a basic inventory management system but could spend more to scale the software over time as the business grows.

Medium-Size Business

Mid-sized businesses often require more complex systems with integration capabilities. A medium-sized business may need a CRM system that could cost between $75,000 and $150,000, depending on the level of customization and integration with other systems.


Large enterprises require robust, high-availability systems that are secure and scalable. An enterprise-grade ERP system, for example, can start at $500,000, reflecting the complexity, number of user licenses, and the extensive custom development involved.

Are You Getting the Right Price?

Ensuring you're getting a fair price involves research, understanding the market rate, and transparent communication with your software development partner. Always seek detailed breakdowns, ask questions, and ensure that the proposed cost aligns with the value and expertise being offered.

Additional Costs Involved in Custom Software Development

Understanding the various costs involved in custom software development can help you budget more effectively and set realistic expectations. Here are some of the primary factors:

Hours Worked

The bulk of the cost of custom software development often comes from the time developers, designers, and project managers invest in your project, with hours being the go-to metric used in charging clients for work completed. This includes everything from initial consultations and planning to coding, testing, and deployment.


In software development, maintenance is an ongoing and diverse cost and is critical for updating and smoothing software operations. It includes corrective actions for bugs, preventive measures for future issues, adaptive updates for changing environments, and evolutive enhancements for new functionalities. These maintenance costs can match or exceed the initial development costs over the software’s lifetime.


Every software application needs a place to live. Whether it's a web application, mobile app backend, or a full-fledged software suite, there will be hosting costs involved. These can vary based on the scale of your application, the number of users, storage needs, and other factors.


Modern software rarely operates in isolation. Integrating with other platforms or services, like using Sendgrid for notification emails, can ensure better functionality but also comes with associated costs. These integrations, while sometimes having upfront costs, can also have recurring fees or usage-based charges.

Licensing and Third-party Services

Many software projects utilize third-party tools, libraries, or platforms. While many are free, some require licensing fees. Additionally, if your software uses proprietary platforms or services, there may be associated costs.

Testing and Quality Assurance

Ensuring your software is bug-free and performs optimally requires rigorous testing. This phase, often overlooked in budgeting, is crucial and can influence the overall cost.

The Belighted Cost Estimate

Choosing a software development partner is a significant decision, and concerns about costs are valid. At Belighted, we prioritize transparency and collaboration to address these concerns:

  • Transparent Pricing and Upfront Budget Discussions: Our goal is to offer clear and accurate cost estimates suited to your project’s individual needs. We engage in candid budget conversations early on to align the project's scope with your financial resources, preventing unexpected costs and keeping you in command of your investment.
  • Estimation Risks: While we strive for accuracy, every project is unique. We understand that estimating is an art, and is influenced by the project and client’s unique challenges and requirements.
  • Co-Creation Methodology: By working alongside you and allowing room for feedback, our approach is to deliver the product you need, not necessarily the one you initially envisioned. In most cases, clients find that the end product, while different from their initial expectations, perfectly solves the problems your client might be facing.

Checklist for Costing Your Software

  1. Establish a Budget: Begin with a clear budget range, mindful that simpler projects may start from $10,000, whereas more complex ones can exceed $150,000.
  2. Consider Size and Scale: Align your budget with the intended scale, from MVPs for startups to comprehensive systems for enterprises.
  3. Factor in Design and Innovation: Account for the costs of unique UI/UX designs, animations, and innovative features, which require specialized expertise.
  4. Assess Complexity: Be aware that features, multi-layer functionalities, and backend intricacies will increase development and testing hours, raising costs.
  5. Platform Selection: Choose the right platform based on your project's needs, which can affect technical complexity and costs.
  6. Integration Needs: Plan for the additional time and cost associated with integrating your software with other systems or APIs.
  7. Data Migration: If migrating from an old system, consider the complexity and cost of transferring and reformatting data.
  8. Long-term Maintenance: Remember to budget for ongoing maintenance, which can be 15-25% of initial costs annually.
  9. Flexible TCO and Budget Mindset: Adopt a Total Cost of Ownership approach that not only weighs the initial costs against long-term benefits but also maintains openness to changes. Be prepared for adjustments in budget and scope as the project evolves during the development process, ensuring a balanced investment that adapts to emerging needs and insights.

By understanding these factors and working with a transparent partner like Belighted, you can navigate the cost landscape of custom software development with confidence.


Navigating the intricate landscape of custom software development costs can be daunting, especially with the myriad of factors influencing the final price tag. From understanding the hours invested in development to the ongoing expenses of maintenance and hosting, it's crucial to have a comprehensive grasp of where your investment goes. By being aware of potential pitfalls, like neglecting to factor in integration costs or underestimating maintenance, you can set realistic budget expectations. 

Moreover, partnering with a transparent and experienced development team, like Belighted, can further demystify the process. Their co-creation methodology and upfront budget discussions ensure that you not only get a product tailored to your needs but also one that aligns with your financial constraints. As the digital landscape continues to evolve in 2024, having a clear understanding of custom software development costs will empower businesses to make informed decisions and allow you to feel confident in your company’s investments.

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